The Worst I’ve Ever Felt: A Review of My First XC Mountain Bike Race

Okay, so yesterday I raced in my first ever Cross Country mountain bike race and I want to tell you all about it.

First things first: I found out about this race like 10 days ago. I remembered seeing a race at Blue Mountain Reservation in Peekskill last summer, and being impressed with the climbing that some of the riders were doing.

I’ve been mountain biking for 6 years now, and my preference has always been for the descending. I love the lift at the bike park, and whenever I ride more technical trails, climbing is a means to an end.  Hell, last week Pinkbike posted a poll that asked the question, “Has climbing become unfashionable?”

Even when I go road riding, I’m thinking about developing fitness that will help me handle a long downhill trail, and I’m not too worried about sustained efforts mashing on the pedals.

And that leads me to the whole reason that I did this cross country race – I know that I don’t like training to pedal my mountain bike, so I thought that a cross country race would encourage me to pedal at high intensities and spin my cranks for an hour.

I figured that if I’ve ridden these trails and absolutely love them, then a race on home terrain would be really fun, and it absolutely was –  2 hours later, when I was eating ice cream in my air-conditioned car.

This was the epitome of Type II fun, which is miserable while it happens and only fun after the activity is completed!

Within seconds of starting the race, I knew it was going to be a sufferfest.  First of all, it started with a sprint up a fireroad, which is about my least favorite terrain ever.  Then, we got kicked into tight singletrack, which is my most favorite terrain ever, but not after getting stuck behind a bunch of guys who are faster than me up the fire road.

So I passed a number of people on each section of single track, and then they proceeded to pass me on any open climbing sections while I was gasping for air and could barely mutter, “Good job.”

About 20 minutes into the race the heat really got me to me – did I mention it was like 97˚ in the woods? – so I backed off the pace a little bit before getting to the highest point of the course.

By that point, I was very confused.  No, not like “heat stroke is a medical emergency” confused, but “Woah, I never would have guessed that trails I’m comfortable with would feel so much harder with my heart rate this high” confused.  It was rough.

I knew that they had the course shorter than originally planned for the mud, and I rolled the last half mile stuck behind a behemoth of a man who seemed to be casually turning the pedals on his XC ‘er to take into the last descent and sprint.

I did my best to pass him once we were on asphalt, but my valiant effort wasn’t enough – he beat me by a second.

I rolled for 50 feet then tipped myself into the grass to have a conversation with my inner gods or demons about why the hell I thought a cross country race was a good idea, and if I’d ever felt that shitty in my entire life.

As it turns out, no – I think that finish line sprint was literally the worst I’ve ever felt in my entire life.

When I checked my heart rate data after the race, it looks like in the last minute I averaged 186bpm and my heart rate hit 198bpm.  For context, my age-predicted max is 189.

Katie was nice enough to bring me a ton of Gatorades, and the Peekskill Fire Department had ice packs and towels for those of us who felt like our organs were cooking from the inside.

We stayed for the podiums and awards, and it was really cool to celebrate the people who pushed the hardest!

Myself, I got 8th place out of 15 guys in the Cat 3 19-39 bracket.  That gives me 28 points in the New York State Mountain Bike Series, which means….

As shitty as I felt at the end of the race, I’ve already looked up the next cross country race in the series to see if I can add it to my calendar.  I’m planning on racing the enduro races at Mountain Creek Bike Park in August and September, but if I can use another XC race as part of my training, that would be pretty cool!

I now know that I could benefit from attacking more climbs in my trail rides so that my climbing skills grow while my fitness continues to improve. I’ll use this Strava recording of the ride as a baseline for future riding.

Ironically, this month is when I’ve started doing more intense intervals anyway, so I’m very much looking forward to what the next few weeks of riding and training have in store for me.

Thank you so much to the Westchester Mountain Bike Association and the NY State Mountain Bike Series for making this race happen!

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